‘Lucy’ has her public debut in Houston

One of the most famous fossil finds in anthropology, ‘Lucy’, made a public debut in Houston, Texas today, as part of an exhibit on the cultural heritage of Ethiopia. A key specimen in the lineage of human evolution, ‘Lucy’ is a 3.2 million year old Australopithecus afarensis, discovered in 1974 in the Afar region of Ethiopia by Dr. Donald Johanson and a team of researchers, and represents one of the most complete hominid skeletons ever found. ‘Lucy’ was also a key specimen in determining that walking upright evolved before larger brain size among hominids.

The decision to allow Lucy’s fossilized skeleton to travel to the US for a public exhibit generated a lot of controversy, and it has taken 6 years to get the exhibit going.

Today’s event was a media preview, and the exhibit opens to the public on Friday at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and will run until April 2008. If you are in the Houston area or will be traveling there during the exhibit’s run, I highly recommend that you take the opportunity to see the exhibit, as it may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see humans’ most famous ancestor. Or, you can catch the tour in other US cities, including, I believe, Washington, New York, Denver and Chicago.

Via MSNBC

Most Liveable Cities in the World (and least)

The Economist has an interesting article rating the most and least livable cities in the world. Canada and Australia come out ahead on the most and Africa and the Middle East fall hard in the least. Interestingly (or maybe as one might expect), the US is not on either list. They’re not 100% clear on what they define as “livable”, but it does mention a number of broad metrics considered. There is also a more full report linked at the bottom, but access to that costs money.

Epidemiologists Turn to Video Game For Help

Ars Technica (an excellent tech news site, by the way) has an interesting article concerning epidemiologists turning to the game developer Blizzard for help. Blizzard is the developer and publisher of the wildly successful massively multiplayer online role-playing game, World of Warcraft (WoW for short). So why are epidemiologists so suddenly interested in games? Turns out virtual worlds with varied populations like WoW are just little social petri dishes for human behavior. This is evidenced by an event that happened a couple of years ago within the game. The developers initially created a virus for high level player areas, which is a very small population, for those unaware of the game. Then the unthinkable happened – it hit the cities where, fairly predictably, all hell broke loose. Oddly enough, this accident confirmed a great many models of disease spread created by epidemiologists. Now they want to take the show in the road, as it were, and test lots and lots of different scenarios and models using the game.

I remember the incident in game as I was on when it struck. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen real panic en mass. I sure don’t want to see the real thing… ever!

Spy Satellites to be Used Domestically

This story has been all over the traditional news – the US is opening up domestic use of spy satellites. The news is rather troubling for privacy concerns. As the article points out, the US is certainly moving into complicated and murky legal waters, as there are specific bans on military use in the domestic arena. While there has certainly been a lot of concern about private companies documenting information, I have to wonder if there will be a greater outcry when it’s tax dollars being used instead of private dollars. I also wonder if this will press to improve our remote sensing capabilities, much like what was mentioned in the FLIIWG working group Sue blogged yesterday.

I can’t imagine this will be the last we hear on this specific issue.

CyArk 3D Heritage Archive

Although this actually launched a couple of months ago, I wanted to point out the CyArk 3D Heritage Archive, which has a great story behind it and touches on some of the research we do in the area of representing landscapes, especially past landscapes, through geospatial technologies and virtual reconstructions. The CyArk 3D Heritage Archive is a collection of 3D models of cultural heritage sites, which are available freely from the CyArk website, which is part of the larger CyArk 3D Heritage Network. There are some amazing scans, like the ones for ancient Thebes or Mesa Verde, and some of the site have other documentation such as 3D CAD drawings, maps and photographs. There are currently 60 scans available, and there is a Java-based 3D point cloud viewer for viewing them in 3D. The hope is to use the models to do what we are working on in our own research, which is recreate past worlds in a virtual environment.

Also check out this San Francisco Chronicle article that talks about the founder of the CyArk project, Ben Kacyra, whose work on developing a 3D laser scanning tool led him to found the Kacyra Foundation to help archaeologists and other researchers scan historic sites.

Find Recycling Near You

I ran across this site today via Digg – Find your local Recycling station! I checked our area and the data is rather mediocre at best. It has the commercial sites but none of the county wide sites that are maintained. Barb works with our county recycling authority, so I’ve had a pretty good chance to get acquainted with the business. Hopefully their data is a little more robust in more urban areas. It’s a great idea that I hope grows and grows!

Measuring Fine Scale Behavior

University College London’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis has done a lot of great work in understanding spatial behavior, and one of their current projects, CAPABLE (Children’s Activities, Perception and Behaviour in the Local Environment) focuses on children’s activities patterns across space and time, looking at things like patterns of travel between home and school and other daily movement. One of the issues the researchers are hoping to understand is the possible relationship between patterns of travel and obesity in children.

There are 3 example animations of children’s GPS tracks, walking a dog, walking home from school, and playing football, which are mapped onto a Google Maps interface and also show the changing levels of activity throughout each track. Geospatial technologies and data have reached a scale where we can look at issues at the true local level, and I think we are only at the beginning of the curve in terms of fine scale analysis.

Mapping the money for the 2008 election

The Federal Election Commission has released its own series of interactive maps on its website that shows the current status of campaign contributions for the 2008 US presidential election (although the plan is apparently to add House and Senate candidates in the near future), and breaks down the numbers by party and candidate. If you click on the circle for a given state, you can also see the breakdown by ZIP code. Interestingly, the Democrats have actually received more money in campaign contributions so far, $95.2 million to the Republicans’ $62 million. While I was browsing the site, I didn’t see an indication as to how often they will update the map, but I may have missed it.

Via The Hotline (National Journal)

Animations of Housing Growth

Trulia Hindsight is an interesting mashup that shows the grow of populations in the US over time. Their intent is to document the creation of every house in the US. Using this data and Virual Earth, they have created animations that place dots on the map when houses were built in any particular area. The map features a few pre-built animations, like “Urban Decline of Detroit” and “Formation of a New City”. You can also use the search engine to find a particular area of interest and watch the houses being created over time. The data seems to be the most robust in their target areas – which is to be expected – but there are other areas which have good data. Our area does not, but the town in North Carolina where my father grew up has plenty of data back to 1880!

Food Mapping – knowing where your eats come from

I am sitting here catching up on my geography news, and practicing typing on my new OQO Model 02 (more on that later), when I came across an article about “food mapping,” tracing the origins of foods such as meat, cheese, wine, produce, etc. The idea is to let you know that if you’re paying extra for food from a certain place, such as Kobe beef, you want to be sure that you’re getting what you pay for. A worldwide network of scientists involved in the TRACE Project have been recording geological and climatic information about different regions around the world, and “Using this information, they have constructed mathematical models that can predict the expected levels of natural constituents, such as isotopes and trace elements, in food products from a specific location.”

Right now, the research is being partially funded by the UK’s Food Standards Agency, but certainly would have applications throughout the world in monitoring food supply and its movements.

Via TimesOnline